North Korea Execution Signals Power Struggle: Experts

Image: North Korea Execution Signals Power Struggle: Experts A South Korean TV report shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his uncle, Jang Song Thaek (circled).

Friday, 13 Dec 2013 10:17 AM

By Courtney Coren

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North Korean President Kim Jong Un's decision to have his uncle and apparent mentor Jang Song Thaek executed is leading analysts to believe that there is a power struggle within the regime.

"If Kim Jong Un was sure of his control of power, he would not have needed to execute his uncle," Lee Byong Chul, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation told The New York Times.  "There will be big and small bloody purges, and at a time like this, desperate extremists may lash out. Pyongyang is no longer safe."

Jang apparently confessed that he was planning to stage a coup with military officials prior to his execution in a statement that was released Friday by the Korean Central News Agency in North Korea. However, the confession could not be confirmed.

Analysts said that the list of crimes Jang allegedly committed, the willingness to make them public and the speed of the execution appears to be an admission that Kim's power has grown unstable.

"The way they dealt with Jang Song Thaek was highly unusual and unprecedented in North Korean history," said South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kilj Jae. "We are watching the recent series of developments in the North with a deep concern."

Jang was executed Thursday immediately after his conviction for treason.  He was considered the second most powerful man in North Korea and was married to Kim Kyong Hui, a sister of late President Kim Jong Il. There is no news of her fate, but officials say it is unlikely Kim Jong Un would kill a blood relative.

Some experts say that the treason charges may have been exaggerated, but that Jang was known as being an advocate for Chinese-style economics and was working to bring such reforms to North Korea, The Washington Times reports.

North Korean expert Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea, said that "with Jang's execution, Kim Jong Un is declaring an end to his father's era."

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